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December 21, 2017

VPLP design: “We have entered a new era”


Winter after winter, round-the-world records are being broken with astonishing regularity. Back in January, Francis Joyon and his crew on Idec Sport claimed the Jules Verne Trophy from Loïck Peyron and Banque Populaire V. On Sunday just past, it was the turn of François Gabart at the helm of Macif to smash the previous best solo time set by Thomas Coville aboard Sodebo. In short, four historic performances, four trimarans… and four designs signed VPLP! Vincent Lauriot-Prévost and Xavier Guilbaud, the architects in charge of Ultimate class multihulls at VPLP, share their thoughts on François Gabart’s latest exploit which saw him sail Macif around the globe in just 42 days and 16 hours.

For you, the guys who designed Macif, did François Gabart’s performance come as a complete surprise?
Xavier Guilbaud: First of all we’re over the moon because, thanks to François and Macif, this new record proves we’re moving in the right direction. It feels like we’ve entered a new era with new ways of sailing. More records are going to tumble! To be honest, the trimaran’s performance wasn’t a complete surprise given her potential on the drawing board, although we were expecting a record of 45 or 46 days rather than 42. That’s what François brings to the table: the capacity to maintain pace, intensity and speed over long periods.
Vincent Lauriot-Prévost: Considering the boat’s potential, it wasn’t the speeds he was logging that were astonishing, rather the way he handled her solo. You know, François’s route around the pole was worthy of an entire crew. As a result, his shore team altered his track in real time because he was achieving runs he hadn’t done before.

How do you explain that?
VLP: Well, we were probably too cautious in our initial forecasts for the polar run and underestimated the skipper’s capacity to maintain pace. Speed predictions are based on the boat’s performance across a calm sea, and I think we were a little pessimistic about how well Macif would move with her current foils. We’ve known since the ORMAs that these foils have a pretty good cushioning effect, but the winglets on the rudders accentuated it.
XG: In fact, Macif’s lee float lifts out of the water but her hull retains a displacement of 10 to 15% to act as a sort of regulator, helping to stabilize her so she can maintain high speeds. That François set the new record for a 24-hour run at 851 nautical miles means his average speed was 35 knots. To accomplish that, he had to be doing between 36 and 40 knots through the water, all the time…

So Macif doesn’t quite fly then?
VLP: Let’s say it's an intermediate mode, a hybrid state somewhere between displacement and foiling. When we designed Macif back in 2013 we said to ourselves that if we get the float out of the water using a foil and keep the hull in contact with the water to steady her, and add elevators to the rudders to compensate for pitching, that would be a great leap forward. At the very least it would be a good starting point that we could get up and running quickly. At that time, we’d just had the first America’s Cup with foiling catamarans and we had yet to learn how to make large, high foils for offshore conditions. So we limited our ambitions to foils with sturdy uphauls and small tips.
XG: It was the best solution! A simple, lightweight boat that François could push to the limit despite his lack of experience sailing trimarans. Our decision to build a sophisticated Ultimate wasn’t based on the competition, there wasn’t any. What we wanted to do was gain experience and, through on-board sensors, lots of data so we could move up to the next level.

What has this record-breaking run taught you?
VLP: We’ve yet to hold a proper debriefing session but I can say that it has reinforced a number of our convictions. For example, building lightweight vessels – something we at VPLP have always believed in – pays off. Also, we were right to invest in protecting the cockpit because François was burned out by the time he crossed the line. Imagine what he would have been like without a decent wheelhouse! It’s a violent ride at 40 to 45 knots, and the skipper’s will have to get used to it.
XG: And we now know that the vessel is man enough for the job. François gave it a thorough thrashing in the Southern Ocean!

What’s the next stage in the development of Macif?
XG: The team will be busy this winter installing the next generation of appendages. Improved foils will provide more lift, earlier. Deeper, raisable rudders will feature mobile elevators. A new daggerboard will also have elevators.
VLP: Our dream is to achieve a circumnavigation without getting the hull wet. It’s not yet possible but we should be able to increase flying times considerably.

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